Time flies when you’re having fun: and somehow we have reached the milestone of 10 years in the US. We only planned to stay for about 2 years but somehow the country got its claws into us and we are now fully-fledged passport-wielding Americans. And now on our first 4th of July as citizens, here’s a summary of how we got there. The links below are to my blog posts.
The decision to take a job in the US
In February 2012, my husband got an offer to work in Boston. It wasn’t really a job we could say “no” to but we agonized about whether we wanted to leave Australia, to upend our lives and become expats (for the 2nd time for me). In the end, we had to do it. Thank goodness we were in our thirties because I’m not sure I’d have the energy now!
We arrived in Boston at the end of March 2012. I felt at the time I was a pretty seasoned traveler, and I had been to the US before, but nothing prepared me for this. I was expecting streets figurately paved with gold, everything you see in the movies to be true – riches, and happy smiling people. But Boston is (or was, back then) in need of some work. Everything was run down, shabby, and falling apart. The infrastructure was third world, everyone was rude, and the weather was horrendous.
I was unemployed, lonely, we were pretty poor, and my husband was working 90-hour weeks, including weekends. So, our plan to stay 2 years, rapidly got revised down to three months.
Adventures in Boston
But then, things slowly improved. I finally got admitted to the university’s spouses club and quickly took over the communications team. We found an expat couple to make friends with and with them soon learned how to have fun in Cambridge, MA. I got more serious about running and I started to volunteer at the Museum of Science. We got used to snow and more snow.
To be honest, we didn’t do much in New England while we were there – we saved our time and pennies for trips to Australia and other places.
However, some highlights were a road trip with my mum and grandmother up to Maine, running several races (e.g. Cambridge City 5-miler, Run to Remember), going to New York City, and taking in a few sights in Boston including Fenway Park, Museum of Science (Dead Sea Scrolls, chef Ferran Adrià), and Film Night with John Williams ….. And unfortunately, we were in Boston for the marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy. We also got our US driver’s licenses in Boston.
Things we learned in Boston
Boston was a steep learning curve but we slowly began to get the hang of the US.
Food: Food in the US is terrible compared to Australia. Chicken is almost inedible and turned me vegetarian for a good while. Portions at restaurants are huge, enough for two. Everything is full of high fructose corn syrup. Wholefoods groceries were just about acceptable (but too expensive).
Tipping: Gotta tip at restaurants and a lot of other places. 20% seems to be standard though you can finesse it to 18% if you can do the math(s).
Culture: Boston is a very snooty town. If you are not one of the elite – i.e. have money – you are nobody. This was hilarious to me coming from the UK where money definitely does not buy class. However, the pointy elbows were everywhere, especially in Wholefoods.
Sport: Ah at last, a good thing about the US. We learned about NFL and baseball while in Boston. We became fans of the Patriots and the Red Socks.
“Spouses”: At Harvard, there were hundreds of spouses of international students and staff, mostly women it seemed, who had nothing much to do. In their original country, they were lawyers, doctors, and TV presenters, but in Boston they were house-partners, and full-time parents of small kids, all because of US visa rules. It was such a waste of talent, but we found things to do (e.g. English classes).
Weather: Boston has proper seasons – stinking hot summers, glorious colorful autumns, freezing snowing winters, and beautiful flowering springs. It was great, but not enough summer for me. Which leads us to…
How California snared us
The best way for employers in California to hire people is to invite them over for a trip in the winter. While Boston is up to its neck in snow, California is a balmy 70F and sunny. So, after an interview trip in November 2013 (on the way back from New Zealand) we signed on the dotted line and prepared to move to Pasadena, CA.
Getting a house
With the luxury of our first permanent job that paid well, we decided to buy a house. Thankfully my husband’s colleagues hooked us up with a real estate agent to the stars (because she works with a lot of astronomers) and after 60 days of living at the Residence Inn in Burbank, we moved into our new house in June 2012 (part 1, part 2). Best decision ever.
After two years of being un- or under-employed in Boston and volunteering, I decided enough was enough and I was going to do nothing else in Los Angeles until I got a “real” job. After we moved into our new house, I spent the first few months fixing things around the house – such as installing a microwave and working on the garden. I applied for many jobs at Caltech, JPL, and other places in Pasadena which all came to nothing. Then come October I was totally fed up with everything so I lowered my sights and applied for a front desk coordinator job at a company I had a loose connection with from Australia.
When they didn’t get back to me I decided I was really fed up and would get a Christmas job, which is when I signed up as a Driver Helper for a few weeks. Naturally, within the first hour as a driver helper, the front desk coordinator company called back, so that within a week I had two jobs (neither of which I really wanted).
The front desk coordinator job though turned out to be my making, and within three months there I was in the role I wanted in the communications team.
Things we did in Pasadena
Now we were properly established in Pasadena, we started to see the sights of LA. With a lot of visitors from overseas and with our new work friends we visited places like the Space Shuttle, Griffith Observatory, Mt Wilson, various malls, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Downtown LA as well as further afield to Owens Valley, Palomar, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and some west coast road trips (Berkeley, Grand Canyon, Paso Robles).
Through work trips and other adventures, I think we have now been to 17 states including California, Hawaii (Maui, Oahu 2019, Oahu 2022), Arizona, Idaho (for the total solar eclipse of 2017), Virginia, Texas, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Washington, Maryland, Louisiana, plus Washington DC.
Things we continued to learn about the US
In California, life is very different from the east coast. It’s always sunny, people are generally upbeat, and there’s an energy of creativity, striving and an understanding that limits are there to be broken.
One of the other things we have got used to over these past 10 years is the rhythm of the year. School finishes early compared to the UK, and everyone, not just kids seems to have “summer” – a time for vacation, and outdoors activities. Summer in Pasadena is hot, usually about 85F, and the season finishes with wildfires. Then as the year turns to autumn/Fall there is NFL season and Thanksgiving. Winter in Pasadena is wet and everyone hopes for the day it’s cold enough to wear their fashionable boots or jacket. Spring is glorious with flowers and flowering trees from about February to June.
Another aspect of US life we have really got used to is domestic airline travel, something that has to be seen to be believed. Especially the concept of bringing a giant carry-on suitcase on the flight: which sets the market for “who boards first” and thus gets a space in the overhead bin to put said luggage. Bad behavior is rife – like people putting coats and small bags overhead, taking up space, which means everyone is delayed because then the airline has to gate-check the last few bags that don’t fit into the hold. Then the deplaning debacle occurs where everyone takes a lifetime to get their bag out but everyone is so polite that you absolutely must wait for the person in front to be out before you can get into the aisle. It’s incredible to witness and happens on every single flight.
Finally, a striking thing about Los Angeles is also a vast and a quite visible gap between the haves and the have-nots. The homeless population in Los Angeles is 64,000 which is the size of a small town in England. We give to The Midnight Mission but we could do more.
Becoming Americans and the future
In late 2021/early 2022 we became American citizens. We decided we liked it enough here that we wanted the option to come back whenever we wanted – and to participate in civic life. So far we have voted in the primaries and my husband has been called for jury duty, so those boxes are getting ticked (I mean, checked).
Who knows what the future will bring but for now we are moderately content where we are, with our house, jobs, and living the good life in Los Angeles. Happy 4th!